Occupation: Owner of Basket Case
Hometown: Lynchburg, Va.

What is your current job?
I am the owner of Basket Case, an upscale gift/gourmet shop specializing in custom-designed gift baskets filled with fine chocolates, teas, coffees and wines. We also include many unique Virginia products. Every gift basket is designed to fit the customer’s budget and occasion for the gift.

What led you to where you are now?
Many years ago, with a desire to be more flexible and more involved with my little girls’ school activities, I researched the possibilities of a home business. I discovered that people were thrilled with receiving a gift basket filled with surprises.

What were the early days of business ownership like?
In 1990, Basket Case was born. While still employed at B&W, I began working my business on a part-time basis. In 1993, with the support of my husband, I resigned my public job and took on Basket Case full time.

After a routine mammogram, before leaving my public job, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I knew what I wanted to do and considered this health problem merely a bleep on my career screen. After recuperation, I jumped in with all the strength and fervor I could muster. Having an actual business with a storefront, by that time, kept me very busy.

What did you learn?
During the very early period of my business, I was the only employee.

I did it all—from sweeping the floor to the daily paperwork. I learned that you cannot be the best at everything. I was able to hire some part-time help, which took a ton off my shoulders. Three moves, due to growth, and 25 years later, I am now located in the Old Forest Commercial Center, a growing center located behind the Fresh Market Complex.

What excites you the most about your work?
My business is exciting and each day is different. My associates and I design gift baskets for every occasion from new baby to bereavement and everything in between. Corporate clients comprise a very large part of my business. Because we have a great website, designed by Michael Justice, we have a shopping cart and receive orders from all over the world. Our college care business keeps us busy during the school year as well.

I do my best to know my customers and certainly greet them by name and a hug when they walk through the door. This is important to me. Since many of my customers and I have such a great relationship, they simply call in their orders, and we do the rest. Basket Case is known for great customer service.

What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years?
Convincing decision-makers in the corporate arena that gift baskets are an over-the-top expression of feeling. With word-of-mouth advertising, and actually seeing the joy people express when they are the recipient of a Basket Case gift basket, many of these challenges have been overcome.

What are some ideals or strategies that you prioritize in business?
I have been part of numerous networking groups. The relationships I have nurtured are still as strong today as ever. This very closeness has been a real boon to my business. Being a member of both the Lynchburg Regional and Bedford Area Chambers of Commerce has enabled me to make priceless contacts and customers. A most exciting event for Basket Case and me, personally, was receiving the Small Business Award for 2005 from the Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.

What’s life like outside of work?
My girls, who are now adults with their own families, were the real reason behind Basket Case. Even though they are busy themselves, one is a full-time nursing student at Liberty University and the other is the librarian-media specialist at R.S. Payne Elementary, we make time for a weekly family gathering at my house. My grandson, Dakota, who lives with me, is the impetus for keeping me active with his high school activities. God and family are stressed at my table each week.

What do you enjoy about this region?
I grew up in Amherst County and am now residing in Lynchburg. I’ve been married to Jimmy Cunningham for 35 years. Jimmy had a severe stroke 13 yrs. ago and now resides in a nursing facility. He continues to be my cheerleader and support system.

Any final words?
Going the extra mile puts you miles ahead of the competition.